By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow

I once had the “opportunity” to ride on a bus together with a large group of seventh-graders. There was an announcement that the recital of תפילת הדרך was imminent. One boy then quickly went around the bus asking everyone if they had any “extra” food they could give him. He explained that he had a מנהג to eat before saying תפילת הדרך. Now, there are people who call Judaism a gastrocentric religion. This, though, is a little too much. Is there a מצוה to experience motion sickness? Or was his request just a clever ploy to schnorr food?

Actually, there is a halachic basis for his request, sort of. Most “long ברכות” begin with and end with the formula “ברוך אתה ד׳ …”. The ברכה of אשר יצר, for example, has the phrase ברוך אתה at the beginning and at the end. Some long berachos, though, have the phrase ברוך אתה only at the end. The second ברכה of bentching, for example, ends with ברוך אתה ד׳ על הארץ ועל המזון. However, it starts directly with נודה לך, without any preamble. Since the first ברכה of bentching ends with ברוך אתה ד׳ הזן את הכל, the proximity of that phrase to נודה לך, the next ברכה, obviates the need for another ברוך אתה preamble to start the second ברכה. The term for this is ברכה הסמוכה לחברתה. When one long ברכה is recited directly after another long ברכה, it may not need to start with ברוך אתה.

תפילת הדרך is a long ברכה that culminates with ברוך אתה ד׳ … שׁוֹמֵעַ תפילה. Why doesn’t it start with ברוך אתה? It is seemingly an independent ברכה. All independent blessings that are not part of a series should start with ברוך אתה. The מהר״ם מרוטנבורג explains that the ברכה was intended to be recited after the long ברכה of מעביר שֵנָה. The proximity of the end of that one, ברוך … גומל חסדים, precludes the need for תפילת הדרך to start with ברוך אתה.

When one already said the ברכה of מעביר שֵנָה, the (משנה ברורה (א״ח 110 advises one to orchestrate the need to say any long ברכה such as אשר יצר, על המחי׳, or בורא נפשות. This necessary blessing should then be followed by תפילת הדרך. So what the boy perceived as his family’s custom of eating before תפילת הדרך was actually just the preparation necessary to say the ברכה אחרונה of על המחי׳ or בורא נפשות. This boy only knew he had a מצוה to eat!

The חת״ם סופר writes in his glosses to שולחן ערוך that his rebbe used to smell spices before תפילת הדרך. Rabbi Nosson Adler apparently held that even a short ברכה, such as the one recited on spices, if recited before תפילת הדרך would also obviate the need to start תפילת הדרך with ברוך אתה. Why didn’t he use a ברכה on food instead? Why didn’t he recite בורא פרי ×”×¢×¥, take a bite of an apple, and recite תפילת הדרך? He felt that eating would be an interruption between the ברכה and תפילת הדרך. Consequently, תפילת הדרך would still need a ברוך אתה opening. Rabbi Nosson Adler opined that smelling spices, however, would not be an interruption. The חת״ם סופר himself disagreed and was of the opinion that even smelling spices would qualify as an interruption. The משנה ברורה perhaps concurred, and therefore only listed אשר יצר and ברכות אחרונות as possible ברכות to use.

However, if this technique is not possible, one should certainly not start תפילת הדרך with ברוך אתה. Rather, he should use the text found in the סידור.

There is a לימוד זכות why people are not careful about this הלכה to even attempt to recite a required ברכה before תפילת הדרך.

The רשב״א opines that once חז״ל instituted a blessing, they did not change the text even if it is recited under other circumstances. שׁוֹמֵעַ תפילה is a ברכה we recite every weekday in שמונה עשרה. And תפילת הדרך ends with שׁוֹמֵעַ תפילה. Although the contents of these ברכות are markedly different, they still conclude exactly the same way. שׁוֹמֵעַ תפילה in Shemoneh Esreh does not start with ברוך אתה since it is adjacent to ברוך … מצמיח קרן ישועה.

Once our sages instituted that שׁוֹמֵעַ תפילה should not start with ברוך אתה, all שׁוֹמֵעַ תפילה blessings do not start with ברוך אתה. (The ציץ אליעזר takes pains to explain that the logic is not simply that since most times it is recited סמוכה לחברתה, it is always viewed that way. Rather, our sages chose to formulate certain ברכות as shortened ברכות because they are usually סמוכה לחברתה.) Therefore, according to the רשב״א, there is no need to even attempt to recite another ברכה before תפילת הדרך. Unlike the מהר״ם מרוטנבורג, the רשב״א holds that תפילת הדרך was originally formulated to be an independent ברכה.

תוספות in פסחיםo(104 b) offers a markedly different reason as to why תפילת הדרך does not start with ברוך אתה. He opines that the laws of ברכה הסמוכה לחברתה are not applicable to prayers that are disguised as blessings. תפילת הדרך is in essence a prayer that is formulated as a blessing. When we recite תפילת הדרך we are praying to Hashem that we should have a safe journey. The fact that תפילת הדרך is a prayer has important halachic consequences. Generally we frown upon changing the standard formulations of blessings. Yet Rav Shlomo Zalman, זצ״ל, said that one may add specific requests to the standard text of תפילת הדרך. One may insert a specific request to be saved from traffic accidents, from terrorists, or any other peril.

Further, generally one may recite a ברכה on behalf of himself and his friend. However, when it comes to תפילת הדרך, Rav Chaim Kanievsky said that it is preferable that one recite it himself. This is in line with the comment of the (משנה ברורה (59:16 that when it comes to requests for mercy from Hashem, one should utter them himself and not rely on hearing them recited by someone else.

Although תפילת הדרך is a תפילה, the שולחן ערוך and the משנה ברורה still rule that one should attempt to recite another required ברכה before תפילת הדרך. So the appropriate response to “Let’s recite תפילת הדרך” should be, “I’ll bentch to that!” v


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